The Two Ballmers

I’ve spent most of the day wandering around, meeting with a lot of folks and the topic that kept coming up was Microsoft and the Windows 7 launch and how Microsoft will do tomorrow. Matt Buchanan summed it well tonight. The most interesting news this week so far in tech was a new mouse.

Tomorrow Steve Ballmer will take the stage in NY. It might be the most important product introduction for Microsoft. Ever. It’s not whether Win 7 will be a success. It will. It’s whether Win 7 will be relevant. Reviews have been good so far but Win 7 is only as good as the hardware it runs on. Mindshare is only as good as that’s created by MSFT and partners and so far things have mostly gone well. But the story is already told. On the eve of the launch, I feel the best Microsoft can do tomorrow and that’s not good. First, things can go wrong and you might miss expectations.

Which brings me to my point. I think there are two Steve Ballmers. I’m not close to Steve, but I have had the privilege of sitting down with him one on one over the years. I’ve interviewed him on stage in front of thousands of people. I have heard him speak more times than I can recall. There are two Steves.

One Ballmer is the CEO who shows up prepped by WaggEd, presents his story, stays on message and doesn’t leave the script. He’s kinda boring.

Then there’s another Steve. The guy who could drive any car on the planet, ever made, who still drives a Ford because that’s where his dad worked. The guy who shows up with such passion, energy and excitement that you can’t help get caught up in his enthusiasm and his message. If that Steve shows up tomorrow, it could be a whole different story. Of course, that Steve sometimes says things that, perhaps are best unsaid.

A lot of how MSFT does tomorrow will be determined by which Steve will show up. That’s one reason I’ll be at the event tomorrow.

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New Macbook shows Apple is avoiding the race to the bottom

Apple’s new lineup of products today show that they’re largely ignoring the advice of analysts, journalists and other pundits and who keep suggesting Apple’s strategy must include lower priced $599-$799 laptops as well as enter the netbook market. Instead, Apple’s revamped the lonely white Macbook with core elements of the pro line including a uni-body design (Polycarbonate not metal), LED backlit display and a non removable battery with up to 7 hours of battery life and the now signature glass multi-touch trackpad.
Coming less than a day after Apple revealed stellar financial results, it seems Apple is wise to keep its own counsel about this market. Too many confuse volume shipments with success. With the low margins and high rate of return that netbooks have, they may be the hottest product that no one makes any real money on. The Macbook success to date has been excellent with Apple reporting 10 million sold over the life of the product. I expect the new model to do well for the holiday and lead the low end of the line for the value conscious consumer but at the same time offer a no compromise OS X experience.

I spent a little time with the Macbook and I’m pretty impressed. While it lacks the metal design of the pro line, the unit feels solid comfortable to hold. Apple’s also added a slightly rubberized coating the bottom making it less likely to slide off the table or your lap. Overall, it’s a nice evolution to the design and puts the notebook family somewhat more in harmony.

New iMac line is aspirational tech at its best.

Yes, the new bumps to the Mini are interesting and expected (and the new Mini based server will be a most interesting product to watch, keep an eye on that on) It’s the new iMac line that’s worthy of attention. The latest incarnation of the new all in one desktops is nothing short of breathtaking. While the design is familiar, the new aesthetics make it look more like something from an Apple concept lab than a commercial PC. Available in just two sizes, 21 and 27 screens, it’s the 27″ model that will stand out, there’s no doubt that when many customers walk into the Apple store, that’s the model that will have driven them there and the one they’re going to want to drive home with. Once again, Apple keeps price points and features balanced and flexible but there’s always a reason to go for the upsell. My advice, unless you’re either very budget or space constrained, go for the $1699 27″ model. The larger screen, extra HD and discrete graphics or worth the relatively small upsell. What’s even more interesting is the quad based $1,999 model that also includes an somewhat better ATI GPU. I suspect with a 16gb limit, the iMac is no longer a consumer or even a pro-sumer product anymore. I suspect more than a few professionals who might have worried about bumping into the iMac limits are going to be very comfortable with this new model.

Apple’s also added a few other new goodies. First, the Bluetooth wireless keyboard is now standard. Even better is Apple’s new Magic Moue. A wireless, Bluetooth mouse that fully supports multi touch. It looks odd at first and like the glass trackpads, the best way to use the new mouse is just use it, it works the way you think it should. There’s a right click available as well as a swipe and of course scroll. Scroll is 360 and works seamlessly. Even the fabulous two finger scroll is there (and will recognize one or two fingers so users coming from Macbook heritage will feel at home. By keeping multi-touch focused carefully into the command and control and resisting putting a touch screen on computer, Apple avoids the trap of making touch something that’s more gratuitous gimmick and something instead that enhances an OS that was designed long before touch concepts were even possible.

One other interesting feature is the display port is bi-directional, the first time I’ve seen this. Not only can you easily add a second monitor but you can actually now use a Macbook to output to the 27″ display. That’s going to open up some rather interesting usage scenarios. I’ll have full review over the next few days but so far, this one’s a winner.

Bottom line? The product updates are clearly evolutionary with some radical new design and feature elements. At a time when Microsoft is going to be talking Windows 7, Apple has upped the ante for what a premium computing experience is all about and has set themselves very nicely for the holiday buying season.

The Pros and Cons of Windows 7 for Business

Latest Computerworld column. “The Pros and Cons of Windows 7 for Business

“There’s a lot to like in Windows 7, but it’s a lot easier to like it if you have an easy migration path, from Windows Vista. And given the level of hype we can expect from Microsoft for this launch, IT should make sure it’s in charge of migration before users make the decision for them…”